Playwright Tom Stoppard goes back to 'day job'

PARIS, Helen Rowe- Tom Stoppard is writing a new stage play. At 75, he says it might be his last because he is slower now and his "brain cells are dying in their trillions".
Then again, he's not entirely sure, because he dislikes "furtive competitiveness" and as he puts it, "to hell with it, I'm not dead yet!"

The prospect of one of Britain's greatest living playwrights drawing a line under his illustrious career will sadden many theatre-goers.
Writing original works for the stage is what Stoppard calls his "day job".
But distractions abound: he is a sought after screenwriter, work he enjoys greatly; has four children and seven grandchildren -- "that's a lot of interruption" -- and is committed to a number of roles such as president of the London Library.
"I might write one more play and give up.... I don't know," he said recently in Paris.
"When I was 20 or something the idea of having a play on anywhere at all was just beyond my dreams really... so I ended up having quite a few of them on but it never stopped feeling like the thing which I ought to do and would want to do.
"I don't think that I'd feel I was in disgrace if I just stopped now and enjoyed myself reading books, just doing adaptations."
Stoppard describes the pleasures of screenwriting as "considerable" and has a diverse list of film credits.
He won an Oscar with Marc Norman for the screenplay of "Shakespeare in Love".
Others works include "Empire of the Sun", "Brazil", "Enigma", "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" for Joe Wright's 2012 adaptation starring Keira Knightley.
"I love adapting, it's a holiday (because) somebody else has done what for me is the hard part, which is to create a narrative and characters," he said.
"So to be asked to adapt something is always a great temptation away from writing the only original work I ever write which is stage plays."
-- 'I've seldom enjoyed a job more' --
Stoppard's last "temptation" was Ford Madox Ford's "Parade's End" set mainly in England and on the Western Front from 1912-1918, and chronicling the lives of Christopher Tietjens, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and his "caustic" and unfaithful wife Sylvia, played by Rebecca Hall.
"I've seldom enjoyed a job more than 'Parade's End'," he says of the 15 months he spent writing the screenplay for the BBC/HBO television production first broadcast last year.
"I was so saturated by it that I began to identify with it in a way one normally does not with an adaptation."
Stoppard regards "Parade's End", originally four related novels later combined in one volume, as "great literature" but believes it is not as famous as it should be due to the moral ambiguity of the characters.
"One went from thinking this man (Tietjens) is a complete prig and God knows you can't blame his wife for being so angry with him, but then one has a response to his rather pathetic, outdated sense of honour.
"And the wife who is famous in society for more or less being a whore, completely unjustly by the way... (and then) the whole thing shifts and one has a deep sympathy for her and an admiration for her."
Stoppard does not usually attend filming but felt so "possessive" about "Parade's End" he turned up on set for half of the 80-day shoot and got involved in casting as an executive producer.
"I'd invested too much emotionally into it and I kind of used up the time which I would have otherwise used in trying to write a stage play," he added.
Now Stoppard is once again focused on the day job and says he also feels optimistic about the dramatic creativity he sees around him.
It's been clear for around 15 years, he says, that American cable was "beginning to lead the way for television drama" while on the big screen there are films at "every level".
"Films are pitched to every audience. I end up thinking it's really okay if things are done well... it might be a cop show, it might be a doctor show, it might be Dostoevsky, it might be a stand-up comic but in the end you give yourself to things according to the quality."
The London fringe theatre, meanwhile, is expanding. And although he worries about a shift in balance to musicals and their "untold riches", in contrast to five years ago he can think of half a dozen new plays he'd like to see.
"I don't know why young writers want to write for live theatre but they do. It's miraculous," he said.
"When I started off there were maybe three or four fringe theatres in London now there's about 40 and most of them are looking for new plays. In that sense it's a very good period," he added.

Thursday, May 9th 2013
Helen Rowe

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